Animal Rights Zone

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Professor Tom Regan ~ Additional Replies to Interview Questions

Professor Tom Regan

Additional ARZone Members' Questions

(Addendum to Prof. Regan's Original ARZone Interview)




Professor Tom Regan




ARZone: Professor Regan is the epitome of class, patience and tolerance. I've seen him interviewed and in difficult situations and he always shows himself to be articulate and understanding.


I'd like to hear his opinion on those who refer to themselves as ARAs, who believe the time for civil discourse has expired and choose instead to intimidate and bully others, believing that we need to make the "abusers" suffer, whoever the "abusers" are.


Does he think these people are helping the animal rights movement become more accepted in mainstream society? Does he think it's important for the AR movement to become more respected/accepted?


Professor Tom Regan: Thanks for your kind words. I always try to remember that I’m a Muddler; I’ve not always believed or felt the way I do today. As I’ve remarked on numerous occasions, the last thing animals need is another reason to ignore them. We (you and I) don’t want to be that reason—which is what we are if we confront people in an uncivil manner, trying to bully or intimidate them. Honestly, I’ve never met an ARA who became an ARA because she/he was bullied or intimidated. Our message is (or should be) one of compassion and inclusion. We are (or should be) a light in the darkness.




In Empty Cages Prof. Regan seems to go far beyond the "mammals and birds" which he, at one time, seemed to focus on, in a conservative effort to debate and discuss the philosophy of animal rights with others. Professor Regan has said that he focused on mammals and birds as some other philosophers believe that all other animals are without minds.


This makes sense to me, as, rather than focusing on sponges, or insects, focusing on mammals and birds, as a representation of other animals in general, would obviously bring about more dialogue and serious consideration from others, which, after all, seems to be the idea.


I'm curious how and where Professor Regan would draw the imaginary line these days, if anything has changed in his opinion.


A wise man once said to me: “Wherever you draw the line, draw it with a pencil.” So, yes, for the sake of argument, in the past (in The Case, for example) I have limited my discussion to mammals. In Empty Cages, though, I argue for inclusion of birds and fish. Should we go further?

Certainly other sorts of animals are sentient (they can feel pain and pleasure) but that by itself, though it makes them morally considerable, does not ground their rights. If you recall in my earlier discussion I used the analogy of bubbles that come and go, with no connection between one bubble and another.  In my view, there isn’t any self who has rights in those circumstances. So I think there are two relevant questions: (1) which animals are sentient and (2) which animals have rights? I don’t know the answer to either question. I wish I did. I’m working on them—always mindful of what that wise man told me. I can say that I was very impressed with the knowledge of sentient beings that Joan Dunayer displayed in her book, Speciesism. In this case, most certainly, she is the teacher, I am the student.




Re: The animal rights position. I agree there should be cooperation and collaboration between major organizations and grassroots groups.  At the moment there seems to be much more of a focus on differences rather than promoting certain principles that we can all agree on and consequently promote.  What do you think these principles or core issues should be?

I’m not sure about the principles here but what I have in mind is rather simple:

Who amongst those who are “for” animals supports greyhound racing?

Who amongst those who are “for” animals supports performing animals (elephants in circuses, for example, or dolphins playing basketball at Sea World?

The answer is: None of us. As I said in the previous interview: I’m no campaign organizer. That said, it seems so obvious to me that all of us “for” animals could work collaboratively and cooperatively in abolitionist campaigns (though we don’t have to call them that). There is so much waste of time, energy, money. In the full interview I used the analogy of sunlight coming through a window. Some warmth, yes. But take that same sunlight and put it through a magnifying glass: you can start a fire! What we need is national and grass roots folks making (not literally) a lot of fires!




The case for RIGHTS is very well-reasoned, I believe. There are, I believe, some core areas where we need to do some careful analysis:

All modern veterinary inventions involve SOME animal testing, as HSR (human subjects research) for pharmaceutical, behavioral, and surgical interventions occasions a great deal of ethical handwringing.

Unlike competent humans, nonhumans (for the most part) cannot give informed consent to testing.


Where might animals in veterinary care be without some animal subjection for veterinary research, and what does all that mean for (a) animals AND (b) us in the pro-animal movement?


I think our position should be straightforward and unyielding: other animals should not be used in “tests” in the name of finding benefits for others, including other animals. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong (in my view, at least) in using other animals in scientifically informed therapeutic research—in research, that is, whose purpose is to improve the health/condition of the “test” animals themselves. This is the message ARAs should voice in this context. We are not against all experiments on animals; but we are against all experiments on them that do not promise benefits for them, And—of course-- If what is learned in therapeutic research can be used to benefit other animals, I can’t see how ARAs should object to that.




Professor Regan seems to be suggesting that far more would be achieved if all ARAs were to co-operate and work together. I'm not sure how this could ever happen when we have orgs like PeTA, Animal Aid, Animals Australia, Animal Equality and Animal LIberation Victoria, who all work for and support different goals and methodologies.


I'm not sure how someone who rejects regulating the exploitation of animals other than humans could ever work with someone like SAFE (New Zealand) for example, while SAFE advocate for bigger cages and less pain, and consider those goals to be end goals.


My response to this part of Question 5 would be the same as my response to Question 3 (above).


Then there's the dilemma of those who reject violence, working with and supporting those who believe that "the time for civil discourse has expired."

There are so many people who seem to believe, uncompromisingly, that their own methodology and theirs alone, will lead to the end of the exploitation of other animals. It's difficult to imagine these different "factions" working together toward the same end goal.


Again, my response to this part of Question 5 would be the same as my response to Question 3 (above). I would only add: My God, what sort of movement do we have if we can’t end puppy mills and toxicity tests on nonhuman animals? You may remember the famous Pogo observation: “We have met the enemy. And it is us!” Well, sometimes I think that’s true of us. Sometimes other animals continue to be exploited because of our ineffectiveness. You might be right. It’s possible that ARAs can’t collaborate on anything. I’ll just say (again) that I’m of a different opinion. I think we could come-up with 15-20 kinds of animal exploitation we all would agree should be stopped, however much we might disagree on other matters, including our “theoretical” differences, By and large, powerful national groups do not cooperate because they want to take credit for what’s accomplished. That’s how they raise hundreds of millions of dollars. By being able to take credit for one “victory” or another. Well, what I’m “preaching” is something different from that.  We need someone to step forward and organize (I’ll call it) UNIFIED FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS. Then see that sunlight change from warmth to fire! It gives me chill-pumps just thinking about it.




I thought this was a really good and inspiring interview. I've got a question for Professor Regan (or somebody else who can help). In the interview you mention an article from 1992 written by you and Gary Francione. I couldn't find it anywhere online (although I could find other references to it and I think it was called "A Movement's Means Create Its Ends"). Would it be possible to get a copy of that article or for you to make it available online?


Thanks for your kind words. Kim Bartlett, at Animal People, was kind enough to send me a copy which I sent to Carolyn with my permission to put it on the web. Before she can do that Gary’s permission will have to be forthcoming, as will Ingrid Newkirk’s, who is also part of the discussion. I think it should be available in a short time.

And it is! However, when I try to access it I am informed that I have been “suspended from ARZone.” I have no idea why this happens but it does.




In 2001, Prof. Regan was interviewed by Claudette Vaughan (originally published in Vegan Voice). The complete transcript is available now at this link. In response to a question then he said:

"ARM activists can be both radical and realistic. On the radical side, we work for empty, not merely larger, cages. On the realistic side, we know that the cages will not be empty tomorrow. The wall of oppression has to be taken apart one brick at a time. We are not going to have every right of every animal respected in one fell swoop; but we can have some rights of some animals respected in an incremental basis. For example, we can pass legislation that prohibits debeaking or face branding of cattle, legislation designed to respect an animal's right to bodily integrity within a system of exploitation even while we cannot thereby end that system of exploitation. Changes like these (incremental rights respecting changes) are the kind of change I support, the kind I think anyone committed to animal rights should support." [emphasis added]


This seems perfectly reasonable to me and I wonder whether Prof. Regan still holds this view. I believe that we can demand justice - and have a strategy aimed to achieve the total liberation of others - while employing tactics which may be only incremental changes within an exploitative system.


This question raises incredibly difficult—and divisive—issues. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I think one way. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, I think another way. And on Sundays? I take the day off.

How does one respect another’s right to bodily integrity? Minimally, you don’t assault them. You don’t injure them. You don’t disfigure them. Does this mean that you thereby respect all their other rights? Of course not. Some human slaves in America were branded. Others were not. Did the latter treatment show greater respect for bodily integrity than the former? Yes, of course. Does this mean that we should work for campaigns against debeaking in the name of animal rights? I’m not sure. You see If successful a ban on debeaking would represent a reform within the system of exploitation. There would be a new regulation applying to how chickens are to be treated. But regulation is not liberation. In fact, we’ve encountered this sort of change in the first round of questions. It’s like making the cages bigger.  And it falls (it can be argued) under the same verdict. To reform injustice is to prolong injustice. That’s what I think on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. And sometimes on Sundays, too.


But, again, the issues are difficult and (certainly) divisive. Which is why I want to focus on campaigns that unite rather than divide. End greyhound racing! End toxicity tests! Find areas of agreement; then work cooperatively, collaboratively. That has to be the foundation of the AR movement. Fight rights’ respecting campaigns and win!




Dr. Regan writes that self-awareness should be understood as "being aware that I-am-the-one-who-is-aware-of (in this case) pleasure or pain." It's not clear to me how this relates to his conception of self-awareness (& I think Carolyn suggests this in her question on this point).

My capacity to experience pain seems to imply that I am aware, in those moments when I am in pain that I am in pain. I.e., I am in a state called pain (although I don’t have to know that it’s called pain); maybe the chair next to me, or the earth I am walking on is also in that state, but I know I am in that state. In other words, to say X feels pain implies that there is a self called “X” that uniquely experiences states of feeling.

Dr. Regan seems to expand the concept of self-awareness, then, i.e., a unifying awareness or a "self" that connects the discrete bubbles. So perhaps we should tease-out two conceptions of "self-awareness"; one is implied in the statement, "X can feel pain," as I said above, and the other is the unifying sense of self that Dr. Regan and Peter Singer refer to.

But either way, it’s not clear to me how a “right to life” follows from either conception. A “right to life,” if there is such a thing, should be predicated on an interest in continuing to live – i.e., death is a harm. And it seems to me that if a being is sentient, in certain circumstances, death is always harmful. So I'm not sure how self-awareness helps.


A good (philosophically sophisticated) question. In my view, death is a harm to beings who are denied future sources of satisfaction. So, if there isn’t-anybody-there that persists from now into the future, there isn’t-anybody-there to be harmed by death. So (moreover) there isn’t-anybody-there to have a right to life. I hasten to add, of course, that all sentient beings are morally considerable. Their pains and pleasures count, whatever their species. But sentience is not the ground of rights, including a right to life. Making the case for human/animal rights is no easy matter. You will be forgiven (because few people read The Animal Rights Debate but how I argue, philosophically, for the rights of humans and other animals.


  • 1. Moral outlooks that deny that we owe direct duties to animals (for example, both crude and Rawls's version of contractarianism) are unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore recognize that animals are owed direct duties. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 2. Moral outlooks that are speciesist (for example, those that maintain that all and only human interests matter morally simply because they are the interests of human beings) are unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore recognize that other-than-human interests matter morally. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 3. Moral outlooks that attempt to explicate the direct duties we owe to animals by reference to human character traits (for example, the cruelty-kindness view) are unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore be able to distinguish between moral assessments of what people do and the moral character they display in doing it. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 4. Moral outlooks that attempt to explicate human morality while dispensing with the idea of moral rights (for example, preference utilitarianism) are unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore recognize the rights of humans, including the right to respectful treatment in particular. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 5. Moral outlooks that attempt to explicate human morality by attributing inherent value to all and only those humans who are persons (for example, Kant's position) are unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore recognize the inherent value of humans who are not persons. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 6. Moral outlooks that deny that no other-than-human animals have an experiential welfare (for example, Carruther's position) are unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore recognize that there are other-than-human animals who have an experiential welfare. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 7. Moral outlooks that attempt to limit inherent value to all and only humans who are subjects-of-a-life, thereby denying this same value to other animals who are subjects-of-a-life, are speciesist and unsatisfactory. Any plausible moral outlook must therefore recognize that anyone with an experiential welfare matters morally, whatever their species. The rights view satisfies this requirement.
  • 8. Moral outlooks that affirm inherent value and rights in the case of humans who are subjects-of-a-life are preferable to positions that deny this. The rights view satisfies this requirement.


With statements 1 through 8 serving as the argument's foundation, the rights view's case for animal rights concludes as follows.


  • 9. Because the relevant similarity shared by humans who have inherent value is that we are subjects-of-a-life, in the sense explained; because the nonhuman animals who concern us are like us in that they, too, are subjects-of-a-life; and because relevantly similar cases should be judged similarly; it follows that these nonhuman animals also possess inherent value. 
  • 10. Because all those who possess inherent value possess the equal right to be treated with respect, it follows that all those human beings and all those animal beings who possess inherent value share the equal right to respectful treatment.




Well, that seems a reasonable place to end. Again, I thank you for your kind remarks and helpful, sometimes penetrating questions. I hope you’ll support the work-in-progress Laura Moretti is constructing at:


All good wishes to all of you –


Yours in The Struggle – Tom Regan


Professor Tom Regan's original ARZone Interview may be found here:



ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.



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